WETA-based filmmaker Ken Burns has won his legal battle with New York City over outtakes and notes from his documentary about the wrongful conviction of five teens in the racially charged 1989 “Central Park jogger” rape case.
The convicted men have sued the city for $50 million, and city attorneys subpoenaed Burns’s Florentine Films to try to obtain outtakes from his documentary “The Central Park Five” to help their defense.
Burns interviewed the five men in the film he made with daughter Sarah Burns and her husband, David McMahon.
Burns battled the subpoena, claming that it violated journalistic privilege. The city, meanwhile, insisted that Burns lost his journalistic privilege when he publicly advocated on behalf of the film’s subjects.
Manhattan Federal Court Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis sided with Burns on Tuesday, writing in his ruling that the city “failed to present this court with ‘a concern so compelling as to override the precious rights of freedom of speech and the press’ [that] the reporter’s privilege seeks to ensure.”
The five men were convicted of raping Trisha Melli in Central Park, after providing confessions after 16 hours of interrogation without legal representation. Years later, they were released after another man confessed to the crime.
“David McMahon, Sarah Burns and I are grateful for this important decision; we feel the judge made exactly the right ruling,” Burns said Wednesday in a statement, adding that the ruling “adds a layer of important protection to journalists and filmmakers everywhere.”